The TAVES Consumer Electronics Show is one event that I always look forward to. It is, by far, the show with the friendliest crowd that I have ever encountered any high-end audio show that I have attended over the past 35 years. It is also very well organized and always features a good number of 'world's firsts' for its visitors.
Having outgrown its old venue—The King Edward Hotel in Downtown Toronto, for 2015, TAVES was moved to the much larger Sheraton Parkway Hotel in Richmond Hill, a northern suburb of Toronto. This is a more convenient location to drive to with plenty of parking. This was reflected in the much larger crowd of around 6500 people that the Show attracted this year. In fact, many of the exhibitors told me that on Friday, October 30th, they had more single day visitor traffic than any other show that they have participated in the past.
One big difference was the acoustics. At the King Edward, the concrete walls and extra high ceilings, has the best acoustics of any audio show venue that I have ever visited. In contrast, the Sheraton Parkway with its drywall constructed walls and lower ceilings, is like most other hotels. Exhibitors had to contend with higher ambient noise and more challenging room acoustics, and only a handful of rooms were able to transcend this by using appropriate room treatments.
Suave Kajko and Simon Au, TAVES 2015 show organizers
The young show organizers Suave Kajko and Simon Au were tirelessly patrolling the Show making sure that everything ran seamlessly. They make a great team, and the experience that they gain with each passing show is very evident in the fact that each one is significantly better than the previous one.
At the 2014 TAVES, the Canadian Dollar was a lot closer in value to the US Dollar and day-to-day fluctuations were not so volatile. This made it relatively easy for exhibitors to handle visitor questions on pricing. No so this year. The Canadian Dollar has dropped quite precipitously to the US Dollar and is fluctuating quite a bit from day to day. This made it exponentially more difficult for exhibitors to handle visitor questions on pricing. Some exhibitors gave out pricing in both US Dollars and Canadian Dollars, while some had some components priced in US$ and others in C$. Most exhibitors stuck to one or the other.
Given how large this show has become, I was not able to spend more than five to ten minutes with each exhibitor, and so my description of the sound quality in each room is a brief summary based on a very short audition of just a couple of tracks.
Bruno de Lorimier, of Nordost Canada
I started off at the Nordost Room, which featured the Wilson Audio Sasha 2 speakers (C$ 40,000), the D'Agostino Momentum Preamp (US$ 45,000), the Nordost QRT QX4 Power Purifiers (US$ 2900), D'Agostino Mono Blocks (US$ 46,000), the Ayre QB8 (C$ 2299), the Platinum Analog DAC (US $7990) with the Quad Rate USB (US $1595), the MSB Technology Signature Data CD IV CD Player (US$ 8,000), the Signature Transport (US$ 3495) the Diamond Power Base (US$ 4995), the Nordost Odin 2 (C$ 40,000) 2-meter pair, Odin 2 Balanced Interconnects (C$ 25,000) 1-meter pair) and the Odin Power Cords (C$ 20,000) 1.25 meters.
The cost of the whole system in this room totaled to around a quarter of a million dollars, which would put it well beyond the reach of most audiophiles. The sound, while clinically accurate, was a bit dry and could have benefited with a bit more warmth and emotion. This could very well be because some of the components had not broken in fully or because the system as a whole had not settled in completely.
My next stop was the "Audio by Mark Jones Room". This was one of the busiest rooms at TAVES 2015, and deservedly so. You can always count on Mark to deliver a room with very high quality components that have great synergy and which is dialed in to optimize performance in the room it is in. This room has a Kronos Limited Edition Turntable (C$ 38,000) with a Black Beauty Tone Arm (US $8500), ZYX Cartridge (US $8500), Aurender N10 Caching Music Server (US$ 8,000), PS Audio Direct Stream DAC (C$7500), Tenor Audio Phono 1 Phono Stage (C$ 50,000), Tenor Audio Line 1/Power 1 Preamp (C$ 100,000), Tenor Audio 175S Power Amps (C$ 55,000), Kubala Sosna Speaker Cables and Interconnects and Magico S7 Speakers (US $58,000/ US$ 64,000 with special finish). The stands and platforms were by Trevor Doyle of Massif Audio Design.
Mark Jones with my "Best Sound in Show" system
The sound in this room was almost everything that most audiophiles could hope for. The choice of music was excellent and the music was seductive to the point where it was difficult to leave the room. The sheer presence and transparency was quite breathtaking. In fact if I did not have a big show to cover and a very limited amount of time to do it, this is the room I would have spent most of the show. Thanks Mark for making it so easy to decide that your room had the "Best Sound of the Show."
Next stop was the Wynn Audio Room. This was one of the larger rooms of the show, which is the good thing because it featured the huge and very imposing Tidal Sunray Speakers, which needed the extra space to breathe. These huge transducers are over 2 meters high, around 320 kilos each and a pair of them will make a cavernous C$180,000 dent in your wallet. They were driven with The Tidal Audio Presencio Phono and Line Stage Preamp (C$92,000) in tandem with the Tidal Audio Assoluta Mono Block Power Amplifiers (C$200,000 a pair). The sources were a Thales TTT-Compact Turntable (C$17,000) equipped with a Thales Simplicity II Tonearm (C$12,500) and a Reimya CDT-777 CD Transport (C$12,500) that fed a Reimyo DAP-999EX Ltd. DAC (C$11,500).
Wynn Wong with his mega-buck system
The sound in this room was big, majestic and bold! The speakers were able to pressurize this very large room so well; I could feel the impact of the kick-drum on my chest. The midrange was well saturated and the highs were just sweet enough to be realistic without being euphonic. For a system that costs well over half a million dollars, I wouldn't expect anything less.
The Kennedy Hi-Fi Room offered glimpse of the soon-to-be-introduced Anthem MRX 1120 receiver
The Kennedy Hi-Fi room had a strong emphasis on home theatre rather than two channel, and the volume level was constantly high. The room offered a sneak peek at the MRX 1120, a new Anthem receiver that is scheduled to launch in early 2016. This new receiver offers Dolby Atmos, DTS-X and a 4K UHD signal pass-through. The retail price is expected to be C$4000. The speakers in the room included the Paradigm Prestige 95 (C$2750 each) and the Prestige 1000 (C$3000) and 2000 (C$4800) subs that have 12" and 15" driver units respectively. The sound in this room was totally confused, which I assume is due to less than ideal placements of the various components, especially the speakers. The only saving grace was the bass, which was tight, deep and impactful.
Alex Chiasson of Audio One with the Yamaha/B&W combination
The Audio 1 Room featured Yamaha Products including the AS3000 (C$8000) and the CES3000 (C$6500), which were driving the newly introduced B&W 803D V3 (C$20,000). Cables and interconnects were Audioquest Aspen. At TAVES 2014, Yamaha got my vote for the best sound under $5000 with the Yamaha/Triton speaker combination. This time, despite the exponentially more expensive components, the sound quality was not up to expectations. This room was also unfortunately adjacent to the Kennedy Hi-Fi room and so the ambient noise made it very difficult to get a good handle on the sound quality.
Steven Huang presenting his newly introduced cables
Steven Huang of Audio Sensibilities introduced a couple of new products at TAVES 2015. One of them was the Signature USB that retails of $700 and features separate cables for the music data and power supply components of the USB signal. He also showed me his Figure 8 Power Cable (C$200) for use with Samsung and other television sets for users who want better performance than what the stock power cables deliver.
Jason Liao CTO and VP of OPPO with his new PM3 Planar Headphones
It was good to see Jason Liao the Chief Technology Officer and Vice President of the highly regarded OPPO Brand. Jason showed me the new PM3 OPPO range of noise isolation headphones that are now available in various attractive colors, including Cherry Red, Steel Blue, Black, and White. These closed-back, planar magnetic headphones sounded incredibly good, one of the best I have heard at this price point.
John Healey of Totem with the Totem Forest Speakers
The Totem Room was quite popular at the Show with a steady stream of visitors checking out their wares. This room had the Totem Signature (C$6500) driven by Naim Electronics. The sound was fairly pedestrian except for the imaging that was quite good. The midrange did not have the texture and saturation that you would expect from a speaker at this price point.
My next encounter was with the Skogrand Room, which made the world premiere of its Skogrand Edition ACA Seraphim Speakers (US$45,000). These are the world's first speakers to be totally wired with Skogrand Beethoven Speaker Cables. This room was constantly packed with visitors and with good reason. It was easily the best sound that I heard at the Show for a relatively small room. This room is a great example of what can be achieved when you put in the effort to acoustically fine-tune the room, place the speakers properly, and dress up the room to create a great ambience. Knut is a true-blue Viking from Norway, and the very impressive sound quality delivered by his speakers overshadowed even his imposing six-foot five inches tall presence.
The sources for the speakers were a Triangleart Symphony SE Turntable (US$15,000) with an Osris Tone-arm (US$5800) and Apollo MC Cartridge (US$8000). The front-end electronics included the VAC Statement 450 Power Amplifier (US$39,000), VAC Statement Preamp (US$46,000), a Sutherland Phono Stage (US$10,000) and an Esoteric SACD Player (US$22,000). All the cables and interconnects used were Skogrand Beethoven. The white oak ebony finish racks and platforms were by Massif Audio Design.
Knut Skogrand with his superb Skogrand Edition ACA Seraphim Speakers
The Skogrand Edition ACA Seraphim speakers sounded truly sublime. It was the most pristine sound at TAVES 2015, with an incredible presence and naturalness that was drop-dead gorgeous. I did not hear any other speaker at this show under US$50,000 that could match these exquisitely finished transducers for sheer realism. Some of the Dead Can Dance tracks that Knut played sounded so eerily real that it gave me goose bumps galore. Many of my fellow reviewers covering the Show came to the same conclusion; this pair of speakers was a real standout in terms of sound quality. I am enthusiastically looking forward to reviewing these speakers for Positive Feedback.
Peter Madnick, President of Audio Alchemy, with the system he demoed at TAVES 2015
The Audio Alchemy Room featured the KEF Blade 2 Speakers (C$29,000). Those were driven by the Audio Alchemy DDP-1, 3-in-1 Digital Decoding Preamp/DAC/Headphone Amplifier (C$2900), DPA-1M Mono Block Power Amplifiers (C$2900), PS-5 Power Supply Upgrade (C$ 900) and the DMP-1 Digital Music Player (Price TBD). XLO Reference and Ultra Cables and Interconnects were used throughout. The sound was on a bit on the warm side of neutral with a rock solid image and taut, authoritative bass.
Alex Tiefenboeck of Crown Mountain Imports with his Kudos/Norma system
Crown Mountain Imports demoed their Kudos Audio Super 20 Speakers (US$9500) that were driven by Norma Audio SC-2 Preamps (C$8900), Revo PA-150 Power Amplifiers (US$8900), Revo DS1 CD Player and Digital Source (US$6600). The sound was smooth and grain-free, with an unusually deep sound stage.
The speaker with perhaps the highest WAF at TAVES – the Vivace Mini
The Triode Lab Room featured the world premier of their 2A3 Mono Block Power Amplifiers (US$6900), which was played through the Vivace Mini Speaker System that was fascinating to look at because the only driver it had is just 2.75 inches across, a unit made in Italy. For such a tiny, slim and elegant speaker, the sound in the room was surprisingly big and robust. However the bottom octave was understandably missing in action.
Vince Scalzitti of Tricell, one of the biggest high-end audio distributors in Canada
Vince Scalzitti of Tricell, the Godfather of the Canada High-End Audio Scene, was holding court in his room where he had the Joseph Audio Pulsar Speaker (C$8000), the Blue Note Turntable (C$6000), and the Acoustic Arts Preamp/Power Amp and CD player. The sound in this room was full and warm with a very pleasing midrange bloom.
Bernard Li, one of the fastest growing audio product distributors in Canada
The Charisma Audio room at TAVES is always a treat to visit because you can count on Bernard Li to have some very interesting products. This year he had a Unison Research Integrated Amplifier (C$7050), a Well Tempered Lab Royale 400 Turntable (C$14,500) with a Charisma Audio Reference 2 MC cartridge (C$3500), a Charisma Audio Musiko Phono Stage (C$1950), Codia Acoustic Design Stage 3000 Birch Audio Rack (US$4900), and a Hannl Mera ELB 24V record cleaning machine (US$5610). Bernard is skilled at tuning room acoustics and he did a commendable job in his room, which delivered some truly enchanting music with superb sound quality.
Francis Chung, the President of Toronto Home of the Audiophile, is a well-known dealer in Canada and a regular exhibitor at TAVES. This year he grabbed a lot of attention with his demo system, which included the Gershman Acoustics Grande Avant Garde Speakers (C$13,000), Pass Lab XP30 Preamp (C$22,300), Pass Labs X350.8 Stereo Amplifier (C$19,200), Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference (C$21,600), Esoteric K-03X SACD Player (C$15,600), PS Audio Perfect Wave Transport (C$5400) and Direct Stream DAC (C$8000). The cables and interconnects were from Siltech and Gutwire and the audio racks were from Solid Tech.
Francis Chung answering questions from visitors to his room
The sound in this room was very captivating and impactful. It was smooth and full with a sound stage that was deep and holographic. There was a lot of air between the instruments, and the vocals had very good body and presence, a signature sound quality of Pass Labs Amplifiers.
David Chan of DLV Audio with his system, fronted by the Kharma DB9S Speakers
The DLV audio room featured the Kharma DB9S Speaker (C$40,000) with the Swiss made CH Precision DI Transport (US$38,000), C1 DAC, Viola Lalos Sonata Preamplifier and the Bravo Power Amplifiers. David Chan, the Vice President of DVL Audio had a great selection of music that really showed off what this system could do. The sound was very pleasing with crisp highs, very liquid midrange and tuneful bass despite the rear brick wall with no acoustic treatments.
Roger Kwong, the Marketing Manager of Focus Audio, beside his impressive looking Master 3 BE speakers
The Focus Audio Room featured the Focus Audio Master 3 BE Speaker (US$35,000), driven by the Concerto Mono Block Power Amplifiers (US$35,000/pair), the Metronome Kalista CD Transport and Nausicaa DAC (US$88,000/set) and the Absolute Creations Digital, Analog and Power cables (US$25,000/set). The sound quality in this room was accurate, but a bit on the polite side. The imaging was deep, but not as wide as I would have liked.
Frank Fazzalari of Coherent Audio with his highly efficient co-axial speakers
Coherent Audio is a regular exhibitor at TAVES and always garners a steady stream of visitors attracted by the unique speaker design. These speakers feature a 15-inch composite X5 cone, an unusually large 3-inch Beryllium Tweeter, and Neodymium Magnets working with Mundorf Supreme Silver/Oil Capacitors. The internal wiring is all Nordost. Sensitivity is a very high 100dB/watt/meter. These speakers imaged beautifully with pinpoint localization of everything on the sound stage. The midrange was smooth and well textured, but the bass was a bit on the wooly side.
Vince Galbo of MSB Technologies demonstrating the MSB/Wilson Audio combination in the Audio Excellence Room
The Wilson Audio Sabrina (C$21,600) took center stage in the Audio Excellence Room where they were driven by Naim NAC 282 Preamp (C$22,000), NAP 250 Power Amp (C$6500), MSB Universal Media Transport (C$16,000), MSB Analog DAC (C$16,985). The previous instance when I heard the Sabrinas, they performed reasonably well, but at TAVES, they sounded unusually bright and grainy. Perhaps it was because of less than ideal placement in the room or the fact that they had not been fully broken in but the sound was very pedestrian and not very involving.
Karim Sfeir of Smarketing with the Canton/AVM gear being demoed at TAVES
The strange blue light bathing the whole Smarketing Room made entering it quite a surreal experience. The speaker playing in this room was the Canton Reference 3.2 (C$18,500) driven by the AVM Audio MA3.2 Power Amplifier (C$9500), SD 3.2 Preamp/Streaming DAC (C$7350), and the CD 3.2 Upsampling CD Player ($5500). The sound was distinctively bright and the imaging was quite flat, perhaps because the speakers were placed so close to the back wall. However, aesthetically the front-end components and the speakers were all very elegantly styled and the solid build reflected their German heritage.
Tash Goka the designer of Reference 3A Speakers besides his new bookshelf model – Dulcet
Tash Goka of Reference 3A is very popular at TAVES with many visitors paying rapt attention when he speaks of his speaker design philosophy. At TAVES this year, Tash has a new bookshelf speaker to show—the Dulcet (C$2000). Like all his other speakers the Dulcet is also designed without a crossover network for the mid/bass drivers. The imaging from these relatively small speakers was something special. The sound stage was wide and deep, though I would have liked a little more air between the instruments.
Gregory Cameron with the array of JVC projectors displayed at TAVES
Japanese giant JVC who have merged with Kenwood used TAVES to show off their line of video projectors. Gregory Cameron had the DLA-RS500 (C$8500) hooked up, and it threw a truly amazing image on the screen. I have never seen blacker blacks or more true-to-life colours from any projector at this price point. The lamp of this projector provides the highest-in-class 1800 lumens as well as a class-leading 120,000:1 native contrast ratio.
Tom Vu of Triangle Arts with his turntable feeding Venture Audio electronics and speakers
The Venture Audio Room had some delectable audio treats including the Venture Ultimate MK II (US$68,000), the V200A Power Amplifier (US$120,000), the VP200D Preamp (US$60,000), the VP100P Phono Stage (US$32,000), the Triangle Arts Symphony SE Turntable (US$16,000) and the Weiss Engineering Jason CD Transport (US$22,000). This company is a Singapore/Belgium collaboration. The sound in this room reflected the steep pricing of the components. It sounded rich and bountiful with a great balance throughout the audible frequency range.
Ken Angeles of Update Audio with the imposing Martin Logan Neolith Speakers
Update Audio had a big presence at TAVES this year. They also had one of the biggest speakers of the Show—the Martin Logan Neolith (C$100,000/US$80,000). These were driven by the German Brand Acoustic Arts Tube Preamp II (C$12,600) and Amp II (C$15,600). This combination cast an incredibly large sound stage, which fascinated many of the visitors, making this one of the busiest rooms of the Show.
Jean-Pierre Jutras of Samsung Canada with one of the many UHD TV sets at TAVES 2015
Update Audio also demoed the new line of Samsung UHD TVs that offer sizes from 40 inches to 88 inches. All these models upscale video signals to 4K resolution.
Michelle Plante and Jerome Fragman of Plurison with the Focal/Devialet system
Plurison had a much smaller presence at TAVES this year. They highlighted the Focal Sopra Np.2 Speakers (C$15,000) that were driven by the Devialet D400 Integrated Amplifier (C$20,000). This amplifier has a unique Class A and Class D configuration that work in tandem with each other to deliver the desired qualities of each class. The sound from this system was rich, smooth and very detailed, but the imaging was not so focused.
Daniel Jacques of Plurison with the Devialet Phantom wireless speakers
Plurison also highlighted the unique Devialet Phantom wireless speakers with built in amplification (C$2795 each for the 750 watt model and C$3300 for the 3000 watt model), which can be used individually or in pairs for stereo sound. The sound quality was remarkably good for the compact size, but the bass was not exactly tuneful.
Anne Bisson the Canadian jazz diva had a steady stream of her fans buying and getting her CDs and LPs autographed at TAVES
It is always a pleasure to see Anne Bisson, the diva whose CDs and vinyl records are one of my staples when reviewing and auditioning audio systems. Anne had a very successful show, selling out most of the CDs and LPs, which she very graciously autographed for her fans.
Sheldon Ginn the distributor for Monitor Audio in Canada with the new Gold 300 Speakers
The Monitor Audio Room has their new Gold 300 Speaker (C$7200 or C$8600 with the special finish) delivering some very smooth and relaxed sounds. This was one of the few rooms that got their speaker placement right. The Gold 300 Speakers were been driven by the Cyrus Audio Mono Blocks 200 Power Amps (C$3500 each) and the Pre 2 (C$2500) with Tributary Cables throughout.
Lisa Kantas and Brianna Bilauca with the Vizio 80" 4K TV
Vizio has a stand at TAVES that displayed their value priced 4K TV range including the 80" M80-C3 (C$5300). Perhaps it was the bright lighting in the hall, but the colors looked a little washed out and the contrast a bit weak. Vizio also demoed their SB4051CD ($330) sound bar, which in the large hall was not able to deliver much punch.
James Tanner VP of Bryston with the new BDA-3 DAC
James Tanner at the Bryston Room took me through the new gear recently introduced by this Canadian Brand. They included the BDA 3 DAC (C$3495) with DSD capability, lots of connectivity including 4 HDMI inputs and a jitter rate of 8 picoseconds. Bryston now also offers the BP2MM/MC phono stage (C$1750), the TF-2 Step-up Transformer (C$1250) and the PS3 Outboard Power Supply (C$1000).
Kevin Voecks of Harman with the Revel Salon 2 Speakers
Ericson Consumer had a large room at TAVES, where they demoed their Revel Salon 2 Speakers (C$33,000) driven by the Mark Levinson No.53 Power Amplifiers (C$35,000), No.53 Preamp (C$42,000). The sound was authoritative, with a rock-solid sound stage and very good midrange saturation.
Ron Rouse of Harman with the JBL 4700 Speakers
The Ericson Consumer Room also had the JBL 4700 Speakers (C$22,000) playing on the other side of the room. This speaker took me by surprise with its sheer musicality and relaxed delivery. The vocals came through with excellent presence and the bass was tight the tuneful, just the way I like it.
Michael Billington presenting his Harbeth/Accuphase system
The final room that I visited was the Audio Alliance Room, which featured the Harbeth SuperHL5 Plus Speakers (C$6300) driven by the Accuphase E-470 Integrated Amp (C$13,500) and the DC 37 DAC (C$17,500). The sound in this room was silky smooth, and the jazz tracks being played while we were there was so relaxing, after rushing around to finish covering the Show, I just had to sit myself down in the sweet spot and let the beautifully reproduced music wash over my tired body.
All in all, TAVES 2015 was a worthwhile audio event, with excellent attendance, and some very good rooms. It took a lot of time to cover it all, much to my exhaustion, but I can recommend this show to anyone in the area who wants to hear a very credible collection of high-end audio equipment. Definitely recommended.
(All photographs by Malcolm Gomes)